Whether it’s ending poverty, protecting the planet or ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity, it is clear that women need to be at the center of the development agenda. Simply put, countries only escape poverty and conflict when women and girls are healthy, educated, and economically and politically empowered. It turns out that progress for women brings progress for all.
A version of this post originally appeared on Locus. Reposted with permission. Locus is a coalition of organizations dedicated to advancing evidence-based solutions to global development challenges that are integrated, driven by local communities and based on shared measures. FHI 360 is a member.
Here’s a development scenario you’re probably familiar with: Imagine a young girl growing up in a remote rural area, raised in a poor family. Girls here are not typically encouraged in the same way as boys are to imagine themselves having exciting future careers, nor even the more vanilla option of working at the sole local factory. Virtually all the local authority figures are men. Contraception (especially for adolescents) carries a shameful stigma and is difficult to access. The girl’s school is chronically underfunded. Some of her peers get pregnant early, some drop out of school, some marry early. In short, she faces several financial and social barriers to a healthy, stable and productive future. Now be honest: were you picturing a young girl from a poor country in Africa or Asia? If so, you’re wrong.
That girl was me. Who grew up in America and is now a healthy, educated woman with a successful career. Does now knowing that the girl in the story was American make the happy ending less surprising? Probably so, and that illustrates a fundamental problem with the way we approach empowering women and girls in the developing world. Indeed, clearly the privilege of growing up in America provided me with a deeply significant advantage in overcoming those initial roadblocks to a healthy and happy life. But what about all of the other various ingredients, that when combined together became my recipe for success? Shouldn’t girls and women be supported in the same way, no matter where they live? Let’s break it down.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which happen each year from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, offer an important opportunity to step back and consider what we can do all year long to put an end to gender-based violence.
Globally, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Roughly 20 percent of women have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18, while just over 7 percent of women and girls older than 15 have experienced nonpartner sexual violence. This violence has immediate and long-lasting impacts on the health and welfare of women and children, with ripple effects in the broader community and country.
Gender-based violence is a significant barrier to the achievement of every development outcome. Sustainable Development Goal 5 recognizes that gender equality is the foundation for a “peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world” and that this includes a world free of gender-based violence. Goal 5 explicitly calls for the elimination of “all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres.”
An Interview with
Mary Mittochi, Project Director, DREAMS: Malawi Communities Investing in Education for Child Health and Safety, FHI 360
In this Q&A, Mary Mittochi, the project director for DREAMS: Malawi Communities Investing in Education for Child Health and Safety, discusses how this new project will reduce the acquisition of HIV by adolescent girls and boys. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) named FHI 360 as one of the winners of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge. The DREAMS partnership, led by PEPFAR with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences and ViiV Healthcare, is helping adolescent girls and young women become Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe.
As one of the 56 DREAMS Innovation Challenge winners, how will FHI 360 help adolescent girls and young women become Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe?
FHI 360’s DREAMS: Malawi Communities Investing in Education for Child Health and Safety project will focus on integrated, community-led efforts designed to ensure that education, health and economic drivers for staying in school and completing secondary education are simultaneously addressed and strengthened. Over time, this will reduce the incidence of HIV in adolescent girls and boys. By keeping girls in school and connecting them to a comprehensive range of services and supports, we aim to equip them and their communities with the knowledge and agency they need to make more informed choices about their health and their future.
The push to advance women’s economic empowerment around the world is not a fashionable procurement exercise. It is not a way for governments, private sector investors or implementing partners such as FHI 360 to look good. It is necessary and urgent. It is a lifeline to women, families, communities and countries struggling with health and food security, environmental degradation, economic growth barriers and political turmoil.
Economic empowerment is a universal human right that protects women and people of all genders and social identities from sexual harassment, exploitation and gender-based violence.
In the beginning of September, Malala challenged girls around the world to show their support for refugee girls by sharing a #YesAllGirls photo — just like she did with her classmates.
Girls (and boys!) from all over posted picture after inspiring picture, with each group seemingly larger than the last. One of our favorite photos came from the students at JSS Government Secondary School Federal Housing Estate in Calabar, Nigeria.
Rachel, a 13-year-old student enrolled in the Cross River State school, shared her story.
“After my dad married my mum, they had my sister and I. My father did not care for my mum because he gave her only female children. He kept late nights and had other women. My mum left after she couldn’t take it anymore. She also left us at a tender age with our grandmother. My father married another woman, who had male children for him. My step mum told my dad to send us out of the house which he did. My sister was serious about writing her Senior Secondary Exams; but due to lack of parental guidance and care on the part of both my mum and dad, my sister failed her exams. This has made life more depressing for her. Anytime I see my sister I cry, because her education has ended from the lack of concern on the part of my father, it makes me sad. I pray for my sister and don’t want her life stagnated or her education ending just like that.
Adolescent girls and young women continue to be at unacceptably high risk for HIV infection. UNAIDS estimates that 7,500 girls and young women, 10 to 24 years of age, become infected with HIV every week, with the highest rates in southern and eastern Africa. Girls and young women account for 71 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting the gender disparity in this age group. Despite active prevention efforts, recent clinical trials in southern Africa have measured new HIV infection rates of 4 to 6 percent per year among young women. It is imperative that we implement aggressive measures to decrease new HIV infections among girls and young women.
Our current HIV prevention package of HIV testing, behavioral risk reduction, management of sexually transmitted infections and condom use is inadequate because young women often lack the ability to control their risk. The evidence is clear that the source of HIV infection for most girls and young women in southern Africa is older men. For young women, a complex mix of economic dependency, limited educational opportunity, gender inequality, unequal power dynamics and social norms leads to a lack of choice of how and with whom to have sex.
How can an adolescent girl succeed in school if she is not protected from sexual violence inside the classroom? How does a child thrive when his mother must choose between buying medication or nutritious food? We know that poverty, lack of access to education, poor health and violence are intimately linked, and how we tackle these problems is a global issue with important implications for the way the United States funds international development programs for women and girls. At the moment, we tend to compartmentalize our efforts in top-down, single-issue solutions, not because that is the most effective way to meet the needs of women and girls, but because it meets the needs of funders and their implementing partners. As we enter the new era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to do better.
There is an obvious starting point.
We need to be a lot more deliberate and get a lot better at integrating efforts to improve the well-being of women and girls. Given the siloed nature of how we organize development work, especially in terms of funding and specialized expertise, we tend to think and act with narrowly predetermined notions of cause and effect. As a result, we miss vital connections and opportunities for action and impact. For example, I recently asked an African Minister of Health what was the biggest obstacle to women’s and girls’ health, and he immediately responded, “access to transport” to get to health facilities and obtain medicines. And yet, how often does transport come up as a priority when funders and development agencies plan health programs?
Zika infection during pregnancy: Why we need gender and social norms changes for girls and young womenWritten by
A version of this post originally appeared on Devex. Reposted with permission.
The link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and birth defects poses yet another threat for girls and women of reproductive age in the Americas as they struggle to chart a positive course through life transitions.
Unfortunately for girls and young women, the choice of whether or when to become pregnant is often not their own. Age and power dynamics heighten the impact of traditional gender and social norms for girls and young women and can inhibit informed decision making and positive sexual and reproductive health behaviors. Lack of empowerment leaves them more vulnerable to gender-based violence, increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy, while fear of discrimination from health providers or condemnation from family and community means girls and young women delay seeking and receiving contraception or antenatal care.The Zika virus is another threat for girls and women as they chart a positive course through life. Click To Tweet
A public health response to the Zika virus must include addressing some of these root causes that preclude girls and young women from realizing their sexual and reproductive health choices — and social norms that inhibit contraceptive use for girls and young women need to be addressed in programming.
Note: The authors would like to thank their colleagues from the Passages project team. FHI 360 is part of a team of global health organizations implementing this new reproductive health initiative in Asia and Africa, which aims to improve the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies by youth and first-time parents in developing countries.
Read the entire blog here.